“10-4 Control We’re 10-8”

“10-4 Control We’re 10-8”

“One single word – like EMERGENCY, or love – can

revise a whole night. A whole life.”    

 Alena Graedon

Several months ago I wrote a blog titled No Thanks Needed.  This was one call that I worked while in the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) field.  Let’s face it, no one calls for an ambulance or seeks out any helping professional because things are going great in their lives.  Likewise, I didn’t seek out counseling because functionality was my No. 1 attribute.  I began seeking counseling because I was being tormented though it was not voiced at the time.

The title of this post “10-4 Control We’re 10-8” I have said hundreds of times while working on the ambulance.  It simply means, “Yes we are enroute.”  I’m sure this varies from service to service depending on the differences in 10 codes and signal numbers nationwide but you get the general idea.  There is no possible way to do justice through words what working in this type of job carries physically, mentally, spiritually and just about any other area of a human being’s existence.

As a teenager, I had my heart set on being a police officer.  Then I determined that since I loved doing drugs that being a police officer was probably not the best option.  However,  I had the need and want to be in some type of helping profession.  At a young 20 years of age the thought of going to school 6 years for a counseling degree was nowhere near the table.  Finding out that I could go to EMT school for 6 months, however, was.  I was beyond excited and totally immersed myself in my studies and training.  My husband wasn’t real excited because the pay was extremely low in that career.  But for me there was a higher calling, the want and need to help people.

emt prayer

I studied myself silly those 6 months and learned everything I possibly could about this exciting field that I saw myself loving naturally.  We were told about different types of scenes that would be a high likelihood that we would encounter. However, nothing could ever prepare me for the things that I would actually see and experience.  In my personal life, though, the grasp of the evil hands of abuse seemed to become tighter and tighter.  He pretended to support my career decision but that’s all that it was….PRETEND.

In February 1997,  fresh out of EMT school and newly married I got my first truck assignment making a meager $4.95/hr with the local ambulance service.  I worked for an ALS (Advanced Life Support Service) which required that a paramedic to also be on the truck.  This meant that the drugs given and additional skills that would be required were higher than my scope of practice.  Some of these skills would include intubation, cardiac monitoring, starting IV’s, giving narcotics and various other skills that I as an EMT-Basic could not legally do.

Performing as an athlete required split second decisions but now it was not about winning ballgames it was about someone’s life.  Mistakes now had a much higher price tag.  The one thing I always tried to be as an EMT was humble.  There were those that had a very narcissistic view of their position and thought of themselves as a god.  This was not a stance of mere confidence but a stance that nauseated me to my core.  Most of the time I would see this in paramedics which we would then refer to them as “Paragods.”  Working alongside confidence rather than blatant narcissism was where you could really learn and working with confident paramedics I did learn.

We were taught in school about the importance of “self-care” while in this career that would be crucial to making it past the national burnout rate which, at that time, was only 5 years.  Included in the self-care education was the importance of EAP counseling after a bad call or mass casualty.  The daily stress of the job and the ongoing abuse at home ensured that I would never come close to that 5 year mark.  There are laws now that regulate the amount of hours that a crew can work without downtime but then apparently there weren’t. It was nothing to have to work 24, 36 or a 48 hour shift with very minimal sleep and/or food.  We were commonly called “Trauma Junkies” because it seemed the more horrific the scene the better as bad as that might sound.

trauma junkie

There were several “bad calls” that I experienced but only a couple where afterwards I went to a supervisor to request EAP services just like what was suggested.  What I was met with was the attitude of “if you can’t handle your job then you might need to consider another career.”  Not only that but then you have to face being ostracized by not only management but also the other medics in the company and seen as “less than” or “weak.”  So, really the only option was to “suck it up” and somehow separate mentally from the daily harsh reality of life.

Anyone who has ever worked in some form of EMS services understands that as a means of survival the job requires that emotions be put to the side and you function purely on logic.  But suppressing these emotions does not mean that emotions were not affected.  In this kind of career there is a lot of maladaptive behaviors that take to the forefront namely drug/alcohol addiction and a high rate of suicide.  Not surprising but nevertheless a reality.  I saw things and was involved in situations that the human brain has difficulty processing and accepting.

My husband’s opinion and others that I’ve spoken with at times posed the statement, “Well you chose the career” or “You have the easiest job on the planet.  All you do is sit on your ass in an air conditioned truck.”  Easiest job on the planet couldn’t have been farther from the truth.  It was one of the most dangerous and taxing jobs that one could possibly encounter.  The downtime that we would have sitting in the truck “posting” at a location was only due to other trucks being on calls and us covering their area.

I have always replied, “Well then who else was going to do the job?  You?”  That was always met with silence.

My husband, at the time, was a newspaper editor and well he didn’t and still doesn’t have a clue what that type of job entails.  I told him more than once, “If you can work on someone’s mother, father, grandmother, child or grandchild for them to still die even after your best efforts and then go home and lay your head on the pillow and sleep soundly doing this day in and day out then you’re not human. You’re a machine.”  The ability to function like this day in and day out requires a certain degree of callousness.  But make no mistake that those calls bothered me then and now.

walk a mile in our boots

For the last 21 years, I have run some of those same calls all day and all night like my career never ended.  The putrid smells of rotting flesh from week old dead bodies that had to be taken to the morgue I can again smell at random times throughout the day.  The smells of blood, fuel and mud/dirt from car wrecks.  The screams of mothers who I had to tell that their child was dead or wouldn’t survive due to the severity of their injuries.  The horrible images of abuse and/or neglect of children, adults and the elderly.  The smell and site of exposed brain matter from head injuries, suicides and or murders.  The individuals that died simply because you couldn’t get them out of the vehicle because the jaws of life were being used elsewhere and subsequently the vehicle caught fire and were burned alive.  The children that would look at you and ask, “Are you going to help my momma or daddy?” While knowing full well that their parent was already dead.  The decapitations that looked and felt like you were in a real live horror film. And the leftover pieces of meat that don’t even resemble a human body after being hit by a train consume my thoughts and emotions when most people lay down for a night’s rest.  It’s at these times, once again, that my shift starts on the once beloved career working on an ambulance.  I didn’t work several years.  I only worked one year on the ambulance until the abuse  at home combined with the daily trauma that I was exposed in this career caused me to buckle.  I saw enough in that one year to still have me waking up in the mornings with my face and shirt wet with sweat.

Without fail whenever I see or hear those lights and sirens, I instantly want to run and jump on the truck and ask, “Ok. What kind of call are we going to?”  Sometimes I’ll still listen to a local scanner to find out what’s going on throughout the city especially on a weekend.  I will also hear those very same words, “10-4 control we’re 10-8” and then the crew is given the next location for an additional call. It’s in those moments that I realize that EMS and the need and want to help people will always be a part of me.  And at night I realize that EMS is still a part of me.

One of the most powerful lessons that was taught to me through experience of working in EMS is to tell those that you care about that you love them even strangers because you might be the only one that speaks those words.  The last words you say might very well be the last words that are said.

“The most basic job of an EMT is to notice things and then wonder about them.”

–Thom Dick

#thispuzzledlife

No Thanks Needed

No Thanks Needed

“I didn’t become an EMT to have a front-row seat to other people’s tragedies.  I did it because I knew the world was bleeding and so was I, and somewhere inside I knew the only way to stop my own bleeding was to stop someone else’s.”

—Anonymous

There’s no possible way to accurately describe what it’s like to work as an EMT on an ambulance.  It’s a career that requires split second decisions and those decisions can and are life changing in many different areas.  This was a career that I had fallen head over heels in love with.  Please keep in mind that anyone in the EMS system that gets called out is not because someone is having a good day.  The same thing for seeing a therapist.  No one seeks out a therapist just to go in session and say, “Hey, everything is going great.  All I wanted to do was pay a co-pay.”

For me working in the EMS system only for a year still had big consequences.  The things I saw in that short year still affect me today deeply.  Companies that own this type of service whether they be hospital based or privately owned are suppose to offer stress debriefing after difficult calls.  However, I worked for a company that was more concerned with getting shifts covered rather than the emotional and physical well being of their employees which I’m sure was pretty standard in the late 90s.

The year that I worked I developed PTSD as a result of everything that I saw.  Some are effected deeply by this and some have less of these effects.  Neither of which are right or wrong.  PTSD is cold and heartless in its effects and can affect anyone at anytime.   I and many others saw human bodies in conditions that no human eye should ever encounter.  Yes I chose that career but anyone who enters a career like that are going to see the cruel ways that humans treat others and the consequences of poor choices.  And then you also see instances where accidents have sometimes devastating effects.  Who does this type of job?  Well someone has to do it and I felt incredibly drawn to do this work despite the low wages, long hours and effects on the human psyche.  Living in a very abusive situation at this same time left me with no one to talk to without judgment.  I also never felt like I could talk with my co-workers because of the machoesque attitudes that were front and center most days.  Maybe this was their own way of dealing with things but I needed a release and I never found it there.

ambulatance

Very seldom do you ever truly reap the benefits of such horrible scenes.  But there was this one time where I felt that my hard work was done with an outcome that I could smile about.  He was a young 7 year-old boy who was heading to his big brother’s birthday party about an hour away.  His mom stopped to fill up with gas while he messed around inside the gas station store.  Mom was busy with another sibling and making sure the car got filled up with fuel.  But this day something caught the eye of this 7 year-old little boy.  There was a mechanic shop right across the road.  Whatever his reasoning was at the time is unclear but this little boy darted across the busy road only to be hit by a drunk drivers side mirror on his head.  The child went down and we got the call.

We were told that the call involved a child and that it was serious.  My own stepchild was also 7 years-old at the time so this one was going to be difficult.  I just had no idea how difficult it would be.  Upon arrival the mother was noticeably hysterical while her child was laying on the unforgiving road.  My partner said,  “Dana we’ve got to get out of here he’s bad.”  So, load and go we did and his mom still hysterically crying was in the front with me.  I think we made it to the hospital in about 3 minutes.  But this call no matter what our efforts would be left in the hands of God and the universe.  I couldn’t leave this situation until I found out if this child was going to make it.  I stayed in the trauma room among all of the chaos of a severe traumatic injury.  He was showing some very disheartening signs that this injury would be his last.  They worked on him for a while but I had to leave prematurely because we had another call to take.  I almost couldn’t think because I wanted to stay with him.  I guess somehow I thought that if I stayed that he would have a better chance.  Irrational as that might seem I just didn’t want to leave him.

A few days later I went back to check on the boy and his mother.  The boy having a major brain injury was still in a medically induced coma to give his brain time to heal.  His mother told me that he was going to be flown to a hospital in Jackson, MS to receive specialty services for his injury.   In my gut,  I just knew that the long term outcome would not be favorable.  We lost contact but I never forgot this little family.  This scene was one that I would replay many times over the next 10 years.

We would bump into each other only by chance maybe once or twice.  I found out that he was in a wheelchair and that the medical bills reached approximately $1,000,000 but he was alive.  I saw he and his mother she and told him, “She’s one of the people that picked you up on the ambulance.”  His beautiful little face lit up and said, “You helped me?” Starting to get choked up but swallowing those tears into my soul I said, “Yes baby I was there.”  That answer seemed to be enough and I said goodbye once again.

A few more years went by without anymore contact.  And then at the 10 year mark I received a call from out the blue.  It was his mother.  In my gut I was thinking that he had died due to complications from his disability.  But his mother said, “Dana this is_____.  He wanted me to call you because he’s graduating high school now and wants you to see him walk for the first time.”  Frozen my thoughts were, “Wait what?  Walking?!!!!”  The only thing I could say was, “I’m there!! Give me the time and place.”  So she did.

I immediately explained everything to Mel since we were now together and asked her if she would go with me.  She agreed and when the time came we both went to this event.  She was taking pictures and I was down on the football field where the graduation ceremony was being conducted.  I stood with his family and prepared myself for what I was about to see.  What I saw was the most courageous 17 year-old boy who didn’t let a set of horrible circumstances stop him from achieving his goal of one day walking before a crowd of hundreds of people.

Chill bumps and emotion overcame me and a sense of pride that this little boy wanted someone who met him under difficult conditions to be there again for the most important day of his life.  Honestly, there’s no way that he should’ve lived but that decision was not mine but was something granted from God.  My life was changed that day yet again.  He reiterated through his actions again the importance of never giving up.

After the ceremony was over and he was sitting back in his wheelchair, I walked to him to tell him how proud I was of him and to tell him goodbye.  He told me, “Ms. Dana thank you for everything you did for me.”  And I told that little warrior as I looked into his eyes, “No thanks needed.  I would do it again in a heartbeat!”  I gave both he and his mother hugs and a little kiss on his forehead and then turned to walk away.  My heart was overflowing with joy and I concluded that all the images and calls that still bothered me was worth every penny to be able to have this God given opportunity to witness.

“Life is about making an impact not making an income.”

—Kevin Kruse

#Thispuzzledlife

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

8.13.14

“You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin,

the less likely you are to find it at all.”

Dead Poets Society

I have read and listened to a lot of information about the death of Robin Williams.  I’ve seen a lot of mental health advocates, once again rise surrounding stigmas and mental health.  Why has his death affected me to the point that my soul hurts?  Let’s see….I’ve been in some pretty dark places in my lifetime.  I could always count on someone like Robin Williams to get me out of that dark place.  Just the shock of his death and the way he died by his own hand, has brought back many thoughts, feelings and emotions.

While a short stint as an EMT, I saw enough to last me forever. I would do it again. But, there’s consequences from doing this type of work every day. One such occasion includes a suicide that I responded to while working on the ambulance.  Everything about that scene, I remember like it was yesterday.  A murder scene with all of the sights, sounds and smell reminders are enough to have me feeling like I’m having a heart attack.  Suicides of people that I’ve known throughout my life and never knowing why but understanding how they reached that point of hopelessness circulate my brain.

I have been forced to sit with these kind of feelings most of my life without many people knowing.  After all, we are brought up in a society that wants us to look great even when things aren’t ok.  I’ve realized that sometimes the people that make us laugh the hardest seem like they have the greatest scars that people seldom see.  Some scars aren’t hidden like the ones on my arms. The scars on my arms are ones that say that I’ve been through a battle. But, the scars on my heart and mind say that I’ve been through and are still going through a war.

Just the topic of suicide can make me physically ill. This topic has affected me in so many ways both personally and professionally.  Everyone has “secrets” that are not told. Society likes to judge and think that suicide is the ‘easy way out’ or ‘selfish.’  I’m not saying in any way, shape, form or fashion that one’s own personal belief, at that moment, isn’t distorted. But, I believe that most people who commit suicide do it to protect their families from knowing the truth or being considered a “drain” on the family. This isn’t every reason my any means.  Suicide, from their view, could be an act of love.  These families seldom know for sure. This is why death, in this way, is so difficult for the remaining family.

One can only speculate now, the real reason that Robin William committed suicide.  However, knowing that he was affected by a known mental illness, I understand how tiring it can be.  I’ve always said, “Everyone has a limit.”  How far down does yours go?

I’ll leave this tribute to Robin Williams and the field of therapy that I saw on Facebook today.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ryan-thomas-neace-/requiem-for-a-therapist-a_b_5670467.html

#Thispuzzledlife

Hello world!

I initially started blogging about 5 years ago.  I’m originally from the deep south in Petal, MS.  It’s exactly half way between Gulfport, MS and Jackson, MS and just across the bridge from Hattiesburg, MS.  Petal has a population around 11,000 now but growing up as a small child and teenager there were significantly less people.  Small town USA complete with the noisiness, conservative politics, religion, strong beliefs, great food, respect taught through the generations, southern hospitality, friendly neighbors who are loyal as family, resilient, head strong and loyalties within a “good ole’ boy network.”  No more loyalties than any other small town I’m sure.  But this “loyalty” hurt me and changed the course of my life forever.

Me and my wife completed Master’s degree in Couseling and then moved to Albuquerque, NM to begin our careers and start a family.  But as life would have it, Mental Illness began to effect our hopes and dreams one day at a time. A few years later I would be diagnosed correctly….finally…with Dissociaitve Identity Disorder.  We would eventually have two little boys that we adore and make you want to keep going with things get difficult.

puzzlepieces2

My writing is about the struggles of living as an individual and LGBT family with a parent with severe mental illness. The sometimes the humor of it all and the often heartbreaking reality of the effects of abuse and mental illness on the indivial and family unit as a whole will keep those that struggle from feeling that you live on an island.  And the families will see that you can love someone with a mental illness without becoming a prisoner to their behaviors.  And maybe you will also see that the struggle for us as your family memeber have more struggles then what we let on at times.

Anyway, enjoy the laughs and tears with our family as they support me while I search for the puzzle pieces of an abusive life.  I will say this…I don’t sugar coat anything.  Sometimes my blogs can be graphic but abuse isn’t pretty.  I’m in the process of healing so topics are frequently repeated and attitudes change from positive to dark.  Either way, this is MY life and MY therapeutic journey towards healing.  Hold on because this ride is bumpy.

Hit the “Follow” button and watch us grow. I don’t write every day because my functionality can change on a dime.  I cover many different topics related to abuse and mental illness.  This blog builds so read from the beginning and see Where we were. Where we are now. And where we are going.  Happy Reading!

#thispuzzledlife